Your work well-being is defined by your attitude towards your work

“Entrepreneurs usually have a clear meaning and mission, a passion for doing what they do. They must remember to clarify this mission and think about the concrete side, break it down into smaller entities, for example.”

Maarit Mäkelä from Varma sat down with us to talk about work well-being, stress and entrepreneurship and how it all ties together.

Tell us a bit about your background, what you have done in the past and how you ended up here

I have been a Development Manager at Varma, in the company’s workability management services, since April, so for six months. I started my career at Accenture in ’97, in coding, and then switched over to process development and later focussing on change management and competence development. In 2010, I realised that processes and systems being in order is not enough. We had just been working on a client project where the clients were completely exhausted; we were on the wrong path. It dawned on me that people were the key to the next major leap in productivity; so, I resigned and began studying to become a coach.

My background is in business, and after having children, I studied social psychology and received a vocational teacher qualification. After my time at Accenture, I was an entrepreneur for six years and collaborated, for example, with 925 Design for the last four years of that. At Varma, I have the excellent opportunity to see whether separate projects have real impact on companies’ day-to-day operations and result. In Varma I can do true business-driven workability development work.

What does work well-being mean to you and how do you define it?

It all starts with the definition of the word ‘work’. What is your own perception of work and what kind of energy do you start your day with? Before I resigned from Accenture, I first had to create for myself a model of my reasons for leaving and what my personal philosophy on life is. What blocks do I want to build my life with, how does entrepreneurship fit into it and how do I make sure I stay on my feet?

I built a triangle representing my life, and it helps me to keep things in balance. The first corner of the triangle is meaning, which, for me, is work; the second is family; and the third is me. What is most important is to see every part of life as equally valuable, to make sure that no part is overlooked. In addition to that, I personally need new perspectives and surprising combinations for each area. Work should be about passionate doing and bold experiments. Every area of one’s life must remain interesting and have inspiration in it.

Work well-being is most clearly about one’s attitude towards work. It is made up of different parts, such as one’s own thoughts about the work, schedules and limitations, targeting one’s own energy and taking care of one’s general well-being. First you have to think about what work means to you. If it is not a separate part of your life, in a way it’s not work well-being, it’s simply well-being.

What are the most important factors in keeping up overall well-being at work?

I am very particular about making sure that my energy is in a positive state all the time. If it appears as though my brain waves are beginning to slip into negative territory, I will have a nap. It all starts with positive energy.

As an entrepreneur, it’s also important to remember that your head is the engine for everything you do, so you must keep it in shape. Positive energy can be effective energy, helping to get things done, or it can be low energy, meaning it is restorative. You must understand and see the whole picture — the importance of your own engine. You can bring even minor relief or restorative moments to your day. They are basically rather small things that are needed to make a day a good one. The cornerstone here is knowingly bringing them into your day, seizing reviving moments for yourself. You must learn how to recover and how these moments can be worked into your day. In essence, this entire topic is strongly about self-exploration.

Entrepreneurs must have a great deal of trust. Especially when doing anything new, it requires an incredible amount of trust in one’s own direction, not to mention failures. You must accept that the first matter is not the most important, but you have to be ready to modify the concept, have discussions and work together. When becoming an entrepreneur, you must choose trust. If every day you doubt that you are doing things correctly, your energy is being directed to the wrong things entirely. You have to trust your choices and believe that things will progress, even if the progress is sometimes a bit slower.

Studies show that a sense of meaning is very important, but so is a sense of accomplishment and control. In the end, it’s not so much the amount of work, but a sense that you can control the amount of work yourself and influence it. A sense of accomplishment is seen as matters moving forward. If you struggle with a matter that is not moving forward, it will quite quickly become a burden.

Many people experience stress on the job, but often this stress stems from setting aside matters that we find unpleasant to deal with. What are your views on this, and how should we face the “not-so-fun things”?

Entrepreneurs especially must be very particular about what they do, what their focus is and how to prioritise their time. In small start-up companies, you’ll often hear that there’s no time for work because there are so many fun things to do. Self-control and time management are crucial.

Entrepreneurs usually have a clear meaning and mission, a passion for doing what they do. They must remember to clarify this mission and think about the concrete side, break it down into smaller entities, for example. When something seems laborious or pointless, they can then look back at their own mission and see how the task fits into the larger picture. Thereafter, it won’t necessarily seem as oppressive, as they can see what it means in their own plan. You must be able to recognise what gives you strength and what drains it. The weight of draining factors depends precisely on what you think of them and how you see them. You must be able to see your own, greater vision and goal and understand that these draining pieces also belong to and are a necessary part of the overall picture.

Stress can also be the result of having too many projects going on at the same time; this is especially true for students. What advice can you offer for reaching goals that have been set?

This brings up the issue of daring to say no, in addition to which, for many entrepreneurs, the fire burns so bright that they want to do everything. I believe that every person must contemplate this question on the basis of their own triangle.

If they have too much work, energy is easily expended on the negative side. And the quality of the outcome will not be best possible. Often, however, things are done a bit too well, in which case the issue is how to define what constitutes good enough. Many people believe that they have to give it their all or they can’t say no. It is important to define what is important to each of us and stick to that. Stretching oneself to the limits of negativity all the time is not a sustainable option. You must find a marginal benefit for you. The belief that you must work yourself to the bone and give it your all and if you haven’t done everything, it’s not good enough.

At the end of the day, it’s about finding just the right overall composition. And then you must begin scheduling every component to suit your daily life. If there are too many components, it will no longer be fun; balance is key.